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My experiences with Boys and Girls Club of America
Written by Justin An | Published. 2020.02.04 18:54 | Count : 194

I consider myself a strong advocate of community service and engagement. I like to assist people in need, especially in relation to education. For the past year and a half, I taught mathematics at a school in Rwanda, and it made me want to continue paying the community back even in the United States. Therefore, for the Winter Term at my school, despite the intense competition rate, I was able to be part of Mercersburg Academy’s Community Engagement team with my past experiences in community service. We visited retirement homes to help out the elderly, wrapped Christmas presents for 200 financially disadvantageous families, and raised more than $1,000 through fundraisers for the Tuscarora Toats (an educational charity in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania) during basketball games. However, the most meaningful and significant project for me is Boys & Girls Club of America (BGCA).

[Homework time during Boys & Girls Club at Stevens Elementary School]
[Photo Credit: Jeanne Clark]

The BGCA, founded in 1860 by Mary and Alice Goodwin, and Elizabeth Hammersley, is a national organization of local towns that provides after-school programs for young students. I volunteered at Stevens Elementary School in Chambersburg. As it was the last time visiting the school for the year, I was able to interview Ms. Jeanne Clark, the school’s BGCA director. She has been working for the club for 10 years, while simultaneously teaching math at an elementary school. She joined BGCA with the aim of creating team-building, collaboration, and cooperation skills for the children. 

[Kids engaging in recreational activities during Boys & Girls Club]
[Photo Credit: Jeanne Clark]

Since November, Community Engagement has been visiting BGCA four hours a week, consisting of mostly homework time and some recreational activities. As a large percentage of the population of Stevens Elementary is Hispanic, according to Ms. Clark, BGCA is the only time for the students to complete their homework because most of their parents do not speak English as their primary language. Ms. Clark says, “We want to help these kids get used to a new culture. I believe being with them more with definitely help them to become accommodated to the American culture and be aware of the differences of other cultures.” 

[An interview with Ms. Jeanne Clark]
[Photo Credit: Dean Waters]

The first day was quite difficult. My friends and I introduced ourselves to the kids, and I forget how many times I had to repeat myself because they were not interested in us. I managed to talk with a few children. Despite the awkwardness both sides felt, I was successfully able to make the kids finish their homework. After everyone completed their homework, the kids started to play dodgeball. However, some kids were not interested in playing; they simply sat on the sidelines, doing nothing. I wanted everyone to enjoy their time at BGCA, and so I ended up suggesting bringing team-building and cooperation games that everyone can enjoy. We thought of musical chairs, a drawing/teamwork game, tag, among others. Not every activity was “successful”, but I do think everyone was able to enjoy having fun with their friends. 

A few weeks ago, a new kid named Andy came to BGCA. Andy was particularly difficult to interact with in the beginning. Normally, before homework time, the kids get snacks. To get a snack, the kids have to say “please” and “thank you.” However, Andy replied, “No, I don’t say that.” Intuitively, I knew that it would take a different approach. From his clothes, I could see that he was a “kid hypebeast” (a term for kids who are interested in brand clothes). Therefore, I started talking to him about my interest in shoes, which Andy responded to. After that, we started to interact more often. 

In addition, since December, I have been practicing magic tricks with playing cards. After weeks of brutal practice, I decided to bring the cards to BGCA. The moment I arrived there, I started doing a few tricks for them to be interested, and after a few minutes, they caught the bait. Intermittently, I showed them all the tricks I had in my sleeve, which pleased the children immensely. Some kids even knew how to do a couple tricks, and suddenly everyone started to play and enjoy together. I was really proud and amazed that such a small thing can bring kids who are so different together. In the near future, I am aiming to develop and master more tricks so that I will be able to interest them even more. 

After visiting Stevens Elementary for several months, there was a definite change in the children, mostly in behavior. At first, they did not talk to me or looked interested, so I had to always take the initiative. Now, I feel that my relationship between the kids and I have definitely improved. I managed to be good friends with a kid named José. He is kind, generous, and always excited to see me. They talk to casually, and many kids ask me for help on their homework, or listen to them read a book, or to pronounce vocabulary. I managed to be good friends with a kid named José. He is kind, generous, and always excited to see me. It is difficult to fathom whether they improved academically due to our help, but it is certain that they can do things independently compared to the past. I also feel comfortable around them, and I want to do the same for them in the time that I have left. I hope that I will be able to continue participating and actively commit to BGCA until I graduate. In the end, I would hope to maintain long-lasting relationships and building trust, rapport, and sympathy with the kids as they grow up.

Justin An
Freshmen (Grade 9)
Mercersburg Academy

Justin An  student_reporter@dherald.com

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